The book friends I’ve referred to in the past, collectively, as our intrepid Ulysses reading group have now designated us a reading circle. I’m unclear on whether or not Ulysses is still part of its title (if it ever was), and it doesn’t matter, really, what we call ourselves. Getting together and challenging ourselves and reading and discussing important works in a supportive environment is our raison d’être.
From Don Quixote last spring, we eased our way through Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Hemingway’s Nick Adams Stories in recent, busier months, and now that fall is here and schedules a bit freer, we agreed that our project for November would be Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It seems like a good follow-up to Dante (an earlier winter’s reading) and Cervantes, though because I’ve been reading a couple other books (Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace, and Nineteen + Conversations with Jazz Musicians, by Garth W. Caylor, Jr.) I have not yet made it past Chaucer’s Prologue, but already I've been musing on the notion of seasonal pilgrimage.
Whan that Aprill with his shoures sote
The droughte of Marche hath perced to the rote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour...
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages....
|Up North spring road cathedral|
Spring, the season that found Chaucer’s pilgrims on the road to Canterbury, is said to be appropriate for such travels because the earth’s annual renewal calls human beings to a spiritual renewal, also. That strikes me as a very lofty view. I can’t help suspecting that here in northern Michigan, at least, cabin fever is as much a factor as spiritual renewal: We’ve been stuck indoors all winter! Let us out!
But the itch for the open road strikes in the fall, too, perhaps in anticipation of impending cabin fever. Once summer is over, many summer residents start packing for winters in Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, California or (old) Mexico, and we know people from Northport who go as far away as Hawaii or Istanbul. Seasonal migration has always been a feature of human life on earth. David and Sarah and I certainly enjoyed our winter away last year. Was it a pilgrimage we made to the Southwest? It was a long cross-country trek!
This year it looks as if we’ll be sticking it out in the old farmhouse, as we’ve done many times before. Still, we did make it to the U.P. for a little getaway a couple weeks ago, and after four decades of making the trip, it does begin to feel like a pilgrimage, as (in addition to exploring new roads and places) we revisit scenes sacred to memory and friends (and traces of friends departed) who have iconic status in our lives. So, winter elsewhere, short autumn getaway – those are two solutions to the Up North longing for the road that comes over Northerners at this time of year.
Another is simpler and involves nothing more than short trips around our pleasant peninsula, blazing with color before the scenery is reduced to a more restricted winter palette. Day trips are very good, when they can be arranged, but so are glorious stolen hours before the start of a regular work day. Sarah and I have been finding much joy recently in our outdoor mornings, finding new places to walk in addition to our old, favorite roads.
Do my morning wanderings count as pilgrimages? Not, I guess, if a pilgrimage must be long. But “sacred place” and “act of devotion” certainly fit my pantheist sensibility. This beautiful world! The obligation I feel to pay attention to it is especially strong in the autumn of the year, as the air and water grow colder and days shorter.
Lovers of Leelanau County who live elsewhere have been making pilgrimages of their own during the past few weeks. Like squirrels hiding nuts away, we are all harvesting these last bright, sunny days and storing beautiful memories – spiritual riches -- for the winter ahead.